First they take away your tax credits. Next they take away people’s votes. WALTER CRONXITE reports on a piece of election manipulation which is being introduced by stealth
In a little over one month’s time, more than 11,000 Croydon residents appear set to be wiped off the electoral register and lose their right to vote.
In one of the most blatant examples of gerrymandering seen in this country for more than a century, the Tories look likely to make significant electoral advantage from a change in the method of voter registration.
The previous Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government’s attempt at securing political advantage by moving to individual rather than household registration for elections – called IER, or Individual Electoral Registration – is bad news for Croydon’s Labour Party.
From December 1, hundreds of thousands of so-called “Red Electors” will simply go missing.
A Freedom of Information request from the anti-extremist group Hope Not Hate has found that 11,322 people in Croydon are at risk of being removed from the electoral register. These are electors who, according to Hope Not Hate, are “registered but not IER registered (in other words, only those whose details have not been matched again the DWP and thus are defined as a ‘red matches’ and will end up being dropped off the register on 1 Dec 2015)”.
11,322 Red Electors dropping off the electoral register is the equivalent of the whole of Purley being disenfranchised.
Because IER requires using an individual’s National Insurance number to register, unless they make the effort to register, all these people from across the borough are going to lose their right to vote.
“The new system of voter registration will disproportionately hit groups such as young people, renters and ethnic minorities,” according to David White, the secretary of Croydon Central Labour Party.
“The Tories know these groups are among those least likely to vote for them. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Tories have self-interest at heart.”
Croydon Central is now one of the most marginal constituencies in the country, won at the General Election in May by Gavin Barwell for the Conservatives with a majority of just 165 votes. Clearly, who is properly registered to vote there could impact the outcome of future elections – local and London-wide as well as national.
Statistics obtained from Croydon Council as well as by Hope Not Hate seem to confirm White’s assertion, with the loss of voters’ rights much more acute in Labour-supporting wards. With just weeks before the registration cut-off, the Labour Party and the new Corbyn-supporting grouping Momentum have been desperately trying to sign-up lost voters in nationally run campaigns.
The loss of these voters is doubly important nationally, as it is expected that voters on the electoral register on December 1 will be used to calculate the re-distribution of parliamentary seats when the Tories finally push through the reduction of Westminster seats, from the current 650 to 600 seats in future.
Katie Ghose, the chief executive of the independent Electoral Reform Society has described the government’s rush to IER as “a seriously worrying issue for our democracy”.
In staunchly Labour-voting Hackney, almost 23 per cent of the electorate are set to be removed from the electoral roll.
Although not as severe, a similar pattern of electoral disadvantage for Labour is evident in Croydon.
Croydon’s Labour-held council wards tend to see more than 5 per cent – that is, 1 in 20 of registered voters – just disappear overnight. In Bensham Manor, the figure is 6 per cent, in Broad Green 6.5 per cent, Norbury 6.4 per cent, Selhurst 5.9 per cent, Thornton Heath 6.9 per cent, West Thornton 6.6 per cent and Upper Norwood 5.8 per cent.
By contrast, four Conservative wards in the borough see their electorates shaved only by less than 2.5 per cent: Coulsdon East 2 per cent, Kenley 2.4 per cent, Sanderstead 1.5 per cent and Selsdon and Ballards 1.9 per cent.
In short, the introduction of IER will make it easier for Barwell to hold his parliamentary seat and for the Conservatives to regain control of Croydon Town Hall.
The loss of voters from Labour wards will also make it harder for Labour to justify having a review of the boundaries of local wards.
As the boundaries currently stand, Labour can make the case that there is a big imbalance between the populations in some wards. A glaring example is the comparison of Labour-held Broad Green, which runs from Reeves Corner and West Croydon all the way down to Ikea and to Mitcham Common. This ward has 12,943 electing their three councillors. In Selsdon and Ballards, which also elects three councillors, there are just 9,540 voters.
Such imbalances are unfair to voters who get less representation, and that local imbalance looks likely to get worse, with Selsdon and Ballards being one of the few Greater London wards in the last census to show a population fall, while Broad Green sees ever more flats being built along the London Road and this Government allowing an unrelenting number of former office buildings to be converted into accommodation, without requiring planning consent.
These differences in representation has led Councillor Simon Hall, the Labour councillor responsible for electoral registration, to complain that, “It is clear that there is a democratic imbalance. It cannot be right, for example, that wards that already have some 13,000 local government electors and where the electorate is increasing and set to increase continue to have the same representation as wards with less than 10,000 electors where the electorate is stable.”
Hall is taking this to the Local Government Boundary Commission.
IER will reduce the degree of difference between our sample wards. Broad Green is set to lose 839 voters on December 1, while only 186 electors in Selsdon and Ballards will lose their vote.
Disparities will remain after IER is implemented, and to seek to balance the number of voters in each electoral area may see boundary adjustments that could offer a gain of two council seats for Labour and a loss of two seats for the Conservatives.
Boundary reviews, though, often turn out differently from how the basic arithmetic appears on paper.
The Boundary Commissioners would need to take account of expected future house building. Fairfield (12,074 electors from December 1), is already a very large Central Croydon ward which includes Old Town, parts of South Croydon, Park Hill and Whitgift Estate. It is likely to see huge numbers of extra people moving in over the next decade. The council hopes to see 9,500 new homes – and potentially another 17,000-plus voters – in the very centre of Croydon.
Croydon’s Conservatives might hope to see Fairfield split into two new three-member wards.
Meanwhile, the housing development up on Cane Hill – nearly 700 new homes – will deter changes to Coulsdon West ward for having too few voters. Purley ward, after the IER effect, also looks the right size and so may avoid boundary changes.
Four existing Conservative-held wards – Coulsdon East, Heathfield, Selsdon and Ballards and Sanderstead – however do appear to require major boundary changes because they remain too small, as measured against the average ward size, post-IER. Any expansion of their geographical area may have knock-on effects on other wards that Labour will hope will benefit them.
Croydon has this year celebrated, if that is the word, the 50th anniversary of it coming together in its current shape and form as a borough. It has been comprised of 24 electoral wards – 22 of them represented by three councillors, and two with a pair of councillors – since the last review was conducted in 1999 and implemented in 2002. The previous boundary review was held in 1977.
Under a 2016-2017 review, new ward boundaries would allow for the creation of two-member wards that better reflect actual local communities. At the time of the last boundary review, one idea to enhance local democracy which was being discussed was that, three times in each four-year cycle, one council seat out of three in a ward would be up for election.
The desire for annual council elections has long gone, so safe Conservative wards such as that which existed before, in Monks Orchard, might now be carved out of Ashburton, and so gain the Conservatives two seats.
“Tory attitudes to popular voting have seldom been positive,” Labour official White notes.
“They resisted universal suffrage in the first place. Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax plans in the 1980s resulted in large numbers dropping off the electoral register. Now they have brought in a system of individual registration which they know will result in many being disenfranchised.”
As the tables below show, IER certainly appears to advantage the Conservatives:
- Total number of electors in Conservative-held wards Sep 2015: 107,361
- Total number of electors in Labour-held wards Sep 2015: 156,333
- Total number of electors in Conservative-held wards possible as at Dec 1: 104,338
- Total number of electors in Labour-held wards possible as at Dec 1: 148,034
- Average number of electors per councillor, Sep 2015: 3,767.1
- Average number of electors per Conservative councillor Sep 2015: 3,578.7
- Average number of electors per Labour councillor Sep 2015: 3,908.3
- Labour to Conservative representation ratio Sep 2015: 1:1.09
- Number of electors notionally required to transfer from Conservative to Labour wards to balance representation Sep 2015: 11,536
- Average number of electors per councillor possible as at Dec 1: 3,605.3
- Average number of electors per Conservative councillor as at Dec 1: 3,477.9
- Average number of electors per Labour councillor as at Dec 1: 3,700.9
- Labour to Conservative representation ratio Dec 1: 1:1.06
- Number of electors notionally required to transfer from Conservative to Labour wards to balance representation Dec 1: 7,805
- Most people about to lose their vote have not realised. But it’s actually really easy to register in a few minutes at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. Check it out now if you have even the slightest doubt about your voting status
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